LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even before Dwight Howard returned from injury, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was looking for a fresh start for his team.
The Lakers may have gotten that with Howard’s help, but a lackluster performance against the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night could lead to some of the same feelings that were generated during a lengthy skid.
After a sixth straight loss Friday against Oklahoma City, D’Antoni declared that the Lakers’ season was starting again Sunday against visiting Cleveland.
“I don’t know if it’s so literal but at the same time, we realized we don’t have time to fall further behind,” point guard Steve Nash said. “We can’t give away games.”
Getting Howard back from a three-game absence due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder only added to that new beginning. The star center had 22 points and 14 rebounds in his return and the Lakers (16-21) ended their skid with a 113-93 rout of the visiting Cavaliers.
“It’s great to have Dwight back. He’s obviously huge for our team. We need him down there anchoring the defense and drawing a crowd on offense,” Nash said.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 23 points – his 21st straight game with 20 or more – during his team’s season-best 58.0-percent shooting performance.
“We obviously ran into a tough patch last week. We were struggling, were decimated by injuries and we just so happened to play some of the top teams in the league,” he said. “Now here’s an opportunity to really pick it up and get going.”
The Lakers now take on a pair of teams with winning records to wrap up their four-game homestand – Milwaukee (19-17) and Miami on Thursday – and they likely won’t have Pau Gasol to help. Gasol is expected to miss a fifth consecutive game due to a concussion.
The Bucks enter this game 3-1 under interim coach Jim Boylan after losing the final four games in Scott Skiles’ tenure. They pulled away late for a 107-96 win in Toronto on Sunday.
Brandon Jennings recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 assists en route toearning Eastern Conference player of the week honors. Rookie John Henson also scored 19, one shy of tying his career high, and Milwaukee matched a season high with 51.9 percent shooting in the opener of its four-game road trip.
Larry Sanders also provided a pair of key blocks down the stretch, and finished with 11 points and a team-best eight rebounds.
“From where he was just a few months ago to where is he now, I’ve never seen anybody make that sort of progress,” Boylan said. “Larry can do things that very few guys can do with his defensive ability. We’re fortunate to have him. In the fourth quarter I thought he was just phenomenal.”
The Bucks have won back-to-back games over the Lakers after losing six straight matchups, prevailing 100-89 in the most recent meeting Jan. 28 in Milwaukee. Drew Gooden led six Milwaukee players in double figures with 23 points while Bryant, with 27, was the only Los Angeles player to score more than 15.
In their last trip to Staples Center on Jan. 21, 2010, the Bucks won for only the third time in 19 visits to the Lakers.
This time, though, Milwaukee will likely have to face Howard, who averaged 27.3 points and 16.7 rebounds in his last three matchups last season while with Orlando.